Fabiana Presley, a 10th-grade student at Broadneck High School, has never quite gotten algebra. But this year, she says, is different
"This year it's just easier to understand," she said, adding, "This is the only class I like on 'A' day."
The difference, she and other students say, is Clayton Culp, the 2007-2008 Teacher of the Year for Anne Arundel County. The county selected him from more than 30 nominees for his adeptness teaching algebra, geometry, and statistics, and for his record of community service that extends as far as New Orleans.
Culp said there is nothing he would rather be doing than teaching.
"It's just a great job," Culp said.
His classroom style was on display this week, when Presley and other students were trying to complete a food shopping list online using algebraic formulas.
In his morning Advanced Placement statistics course, Culp will often open a lesson by having students dissect a chart from USA Today.
"I don't want kids to fear coming into my room," he said.
While Culp, 29, has been at Broadneck High School for only six years, he said he knew long ago that he wanted to teach. He grew up in nearby Severna Park, where most of his family still lives.
He picked up his passion for teaching at Severna Park High School from Walter G. Guzik, a Spanish teacher there who retired recently.
"Watching him, and seeing how happy he was, just hooked me," Culp said.
He attended St. Mary's College, getting degrees in math and education, and teaching students in Australia. He served as a substitute teacher in the county before coming to Broadneck High in 2002, first as a long-term substitute, then as permanent faculty.
Diane Riley, chairwoman of the math department who has been at the school since 1986, said Culp immediately showed notable energy in the classroom.
"From the beginning I saw something different about him," she said.
She attributes much of his success to his ability to understand many kinds of students, from eager Advanced Placement participants to those who have experienced difficulty in the past.
"He treats kids fairly across the board," she said.
Culp has also received lots of attention for his work outside the classroom, specifically in New Orleans, where he has taken three groups of student volunteers since 2006.
The idea started when a student asked what they could do to help the hurricane-stricken city. From there, he said, "It's just grown and grown."
He also coaches Broadneck's baseball team and is assistant coach for the football team.
Having won recognition for his teaching so early in his career, Culp seems as if he could be destined for higher positions.
"I picture him moving up the chain," Riley said.
Culp does not agree. Although he is completing a graduate degree in educational administration at McDaniel College, Culp said his only focus is on "becoming a better teacher."
"I see myself teaching for a long time," he said, adding, "I feel I'm not nearly as effective as I could be."
Winning teacher of the year is not the only new development in Culp's life. The same day the award was announced, April 24, he proposed to his girlfriend, Jamie Kocik, also a Broadneck High teacher. They tentatively plan to marry the same date next year.
Kocik said her fiance never completely leaves his job at the school.
"He is devoted to it 24-7," she said.
The school system, along with the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County chambers of commerce and Comcast, has recognized the top local teacher for 22 years.
A panel of judges, including representatives from teachers' and administrators' associations as well as the last teacher of the year and a student, interviews each of the nominees before picking a winner.
Culp received $1,000 from Comcast and $500 from the school system. He will be the county's nominee for Maryland Teacher of the Year.